The Dive From Clausen's Pier
Book Review ~ Gabrielle Ostermayer
If you're like me and read novels for leisure, you probably find yourself finishing a book and thinking, "Okay, that was a good book...interesting...I liked it" (unless, of course, you didn't). Only every once and a while do you finish reading a novel that leaves you hanging onto that last line, hanging onto every detail you can handle until your mind overloads and you just stare in awe of what the author has achieved. Ann Packer's debut novel, The Dive From Clausen's Pier, is one of those books.
Carrie Bell, a 23 year old young woman born and bred in Madison, Wisconsin, clings to the familiarity of her past at the same time she begins to realize its oppressive hold on her. Her world is suddenly upset when her fiance, Mike, becomes paralyzed from a diving accident which she blames herself for. Even though her relationship with her fiancé has worn thin, she recognizes his need for her support; and everyone she knows - friends who are also stuck in the youth of their pasts - expects her to support him and be there for him during his recovery - an already unwelcome change that thrusts him away from his past life of mobility. Meanwhile, Carrie's interactions with visitors to the Madison community, such as an old high school classmate now living in New York City, heighten her feeling of suffocation and make her ashamed of her stagnant existence. With guilt on both ends of the spectrum, Carrie Bell faces a life-altering decision.
In this brilliantly crafted novel, Ann Packer creates a protagonist who genuinely struggles to redefine herself and her life in the face of an unalterable event. But can you ever really recreate yourself if you cling to your past? Carrie struggles with this, even up to the last line. The novel also raises complex moral questions. "How much do we owe the people we love?" Carrie asks herself; but also, what kind of person does it make you if you leave someone during his or her most helpless moment? The author gives such emotionally nuanced insight into Carrie Bell's mind as she wrestles with her unfolding reality that her solution defies expression. Packer creates a realistic rendering of the human psyche forced to decide between betrayal and self-betrayal - a battle that never ends, that can only be accepted.